And In My Spare Time …
Photography: Timothy Thimmes
For years, New Yorker Jerry Zaret was a top executive with one of the largest advertising firms in the world. “I never got bored working with the creative department,” he laughs, foreshadowing the creative adventure that now consumes his life.
He loved trains when he was a child, but never envisioned becoming a serious model railroader.
In 2001, Jerry bought a 1935 Lionel train that he fell in love with at an antiques show. That was the beginning of his collection of vintage trains. But it was only about four years ago that Jerry really got serious about model railroading. He says that he is actually more interested in the planning, building, and modeling than the trains themselves. “I’m into building the structures so they look as realistic as possible. You need an artistic eye, a sense of color and a lot of patience,” he says, “in addition to learning the specific techniques to build in miniature.” Jerry challenged himself to create the level of realism he had seen in pictures of other models.
When he moved from Telluride to Park City (“the snow is so much better here”) and built a house in 2004, Jerry could finally plan an entire building just for the trains and design a layout to fit the space. The layout is meant to be a fictional area of the Virginia Appalachians in the 1950s. “I’m affected by the ’50s because those were my formative years,” he explains. The ’50s were also a transitional period for railroading, when steam engines gave way to diesel. Jerry named his masterpiece the “Stillson River Railroad,” (Stillson is the middle name of his partner, Joan Childs). He runs the fictional Stillson River and the Norfolk and Western, a real company that was the last major railroad to run steam engines. The layout, in “O” scale, has both standard gauge rails for passenger and freight trains, and narrow gauge rails that wind up into miniature mountains and logging camps.
Set four feet above the floor with sound, lights and multiple trains that can run on the same track at different speeds, the layout is a major electrical feat that is completely digital. It includes towns and villages, warehouses, a depot, a round house with spokes of tracks, water towers, rural areas, forests, trestles and bridges, a coal mining town, sawmills, lakes, and a harbor named Albert Point after his father. Authentic 1950s advertising signs like Lucky Strike, Western Union, Moxie and Mail Pouch Tobacco adorn the sides of the buildings. The harbor even has a “bad side” with a seedy hotel, a mission and a triple X club. The layout is a work in progress. More scenic elements are still to come —people, landscaping, and an estimated 5,000 trees.
Currently working on an oil refinery, Jerry constructs the models in a shop adjoining the trains. The models are made from kits that have extremely complex plans and hundreds of minute pieces, some with individual boards that are less than 1/4” wide. The buildings have detailed interiors and such realistic touches as dirty windowpanes and crumpled newspapers that have blown onto the rooftops.
Guests are astounded when they step into Jerry’s enormous train room. “I’m interested when people come in and pick up on the details,” Jerry says, “when they have an artist’s eye.” For some observers, there is a nostalgic connection to their childhood, for others a deep appreciation of the authentic historical aspects, and for others, an overwhelming awe at the level of detail in Jerry’s work.
Model railroaders are always interested in other railroaders’ projects. Jerry attends train shows all over the country, visits the numerous railroading Web sites and collects magazines and books devoted to model railroading. (Celebrity railroaders like Rod Stewart and Neil Young are often featured.)As to the time he spends railroading, Jerry says, “I try to control it. I could sit for an hour or all day, because I get lost in it.” In the winter, he usually works three or four hours in the afternoon after skiing all morning. In the summer, he sometimes works all day with the doors of his studio open to the serenity of the mountains. Jerry is not concerned about finishing the layout, nor does he feel that it will ever actually be completed. “You take your time,” he says. “It’s just a hobby.”
When she was a little girl in Boston, the old yellow and white quilt on Peggy Stuart’s bed fascinated her. She loved the 1930s era fabrics, the wagon wheel design of the quilt blocks and the intricate stitches. Today, every bed in Peggy’s Summit Park home is covered with layers of spectacular quilts she has made by hand, and every room is decorated with the vibrant patterns, rich colors and dense stitching of her extraordinary quilted handiwork.
Peggy stitched on her first quilt at a youth fellowship meeting when she was in high school. She remembers tea and cookies being served — an introduction to the hospitality associated with quilting. In college, she made a quilt of her own, piecing it by hand and quilting it on a frame. Through the years, Peggy made quilts for her home and as gifts, took classes to improve her techniques, subscribed to every quilting publication available, and collected quilting books, photos, patterns and instructions.
Peggy and her husband Charles discovered Park City through relatives and decided to retire here in 2000. Because Charles was a geologist, they had lived in a variety of interesting places, including Indonesia. Peggy always found work in these locales — as a teacher, journalist, real estate agent and social worker. But these days, surrounded by her stash of fabrics, Peggy spends time working in her sewing room. She continually buys fabrics she can visualize in a future quilt — geometrics, florals, and colors that will become the brushstrokes in her quilted compositions. Peggy saves almost all the fabric scraps, but tosses the smallest clippings outside for the birds to add color to their nests.
Known for her remarkably tiny stitches, Peggy enjoys hand quilting and hand appliqué work most of all. “The more tedious it is, the more I like it,” she says. But quilt making “has to have life beyond the individual stitches. As you get older, quilts are almost a form of immortality. It’s kind of nice to think that the work you do will be seen by people who come after you. Quilts last for centuries or more.”
Peggy makes time to quilt every day. “My real life takes time away from my hobby!” she confesses. She works on several quilts at a time to keep things interesting. “And I always take a project with me,” she says about trips in the car or camping expeditions. Active in the Utah Quilt Guild, Park City’s Silver Queen Quilt Guild and two quilting mini-groups, Peggy carries on quilting’s social tradition. She also passes along her knowledge by teaching classes at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church where completed quilts are sold to fund church projects.
Peggy recently started making reproductions of the historic quilts that she loves. She has developed methods that duplicate the look of antique quilts so exactly that a quilt appraiser recently was fooled by her expertise. Covering Peggy’s bed today is her reproduction of the yellow and white quilt that she slept under as a child, the one that inspired her to embrace a lifetime of quilt making.
A resident of Park City for more than 30 years, Tina Stahlke Lewis’s many hobbies include collecting Park City historic artifacts and books about architecture and textiles. She sews every day — a hobby that began when she was 5 years old — and won the National Singer Sewing Contest when she was 16.